April 13 - October 17, 1999
The work of the noted abstract artist and influential teacher Hans Hofmann (1880-1966) will be the subject of an exhibition, Hans Hofmann at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, on view from April 13 through October 17, 1999. The focus of the exhibition will be the nine paintings of "The Renate Series" and several other paintings by Hofmann in the Museum's collection.
About the artist
Hans Hofmann's formal art training began in Munich in 1898. Through the patronage of Philip Freudenberg, the owner of a Berlin department store, Hofmann was able to go to Paris in 1904 to further his studies. While living there, he met Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso, and became friends with Robert Delaunay and Jules Pascin. Hofmann's early work, now lost, was shown in Berlin in 1909 with the Neue Sezession, and in Paris in 1910 in the gallery of Paul Cassirer. Kept out of the army during World War I because of a lung ailment, Hofmann opened an art school in Munich in 1915. For the next 53 years, Hofmann supported himself primarily through his teaching.
Hofmann influenced three generations of artists in Europe and in the United States. In 1932, reacting to an unfavorable political climate in Munich, he closed his school and settled in New York, where he taught for a season at the Art Students League before opening The Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts. In the summers between 1935 and 1958, he conducted a successful summer school in Provincetown, Massachusetts. It is a mark of Hofmann's effectiveness as a teacher that many of his students including Fritz Bultman, Ray Eames, and Lee Krasner went on to achieve acclaim in their own right. The exhibition will include a selection of drawing by various Hofmann students done in his classes.
Even as he was teaching others, Hans Hofmann continued to pursue his own work, and the income from his schools allowed him to develop as an artist free from commercial pressures. Beginning in the 1940s, his paintings were shown frequently in New York galleries, including Peggy Guggenheim's influential Art of This Century, and his style an extraordinarily dense and complex synthesis of Cubism and gestural abstraction (which he experienced as a young man in Paris and Munich) and of Abstract Expressionism (which he encountered upon moving to New York) gained increasing recognition. Hofmann was over sixty years old when he held his first one-man show in New York in 1944, and the next two decades of his life proved to be the most productive of his career.
In 1965, Hans Hofmann created nine paintings as a tribute to his second wife, Renate Schmitz. These vibrant works, known as "The Renate Series," often are considered to be Hofmann's most important artistic achievement. Executed at the height of his career, they demonstrate the full force and broad range of Hofmann's distinctive style, which is sometimes categorized as "painterly abstraction." Hofmann intended that these masterful and energetic pieces, among the last of his works, be kept together, and all nine paintings in "The Renate Series" a gift by the artist's widow now reside in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum.
"That Hofmann wished to emphasize the various ways in which he painted is evident in the range of style of the nine Renate paintings," wrote the late Henry Geldzahler, the Museum's first curator of 20th Century Art, in the catalogue to a 1972 exhibition of the series. "The miracle in these paintings is as much in the artist's sure sense of when to desist as it is in their fullness and richness. They are never thin or empty, nor are they ever fussed over. Hofmann knew when to leave a painting at the moment of greatest freedom. . . . The joy and force and confidence of the man I came to know in the genius, turbulent and shining as it was, under full control and at his command. It is these qualities that are evident in the Renate series."
Between 1975 and 1992, six paintings from the series were given to the Museum by Mrs. Hofmann. The remaining three were received in 1996 as her bequest. A tenth painting, Renate's Nantucket (1965), complementing "The Renate Series," was also Mrs. Hofmann's gift. Three other paintings by Hans Hofmann also from the Museum's collection The Window (1950), Composition No. V (1952), and Veluti in Speculum (1962) will be shown as well.
The exhibition is organized by Lowery Stokes Sims, Curator of 20th Century Art.
The exhibition will be accompanied by a catalogue, available for $9.95 in the Museum's Bookshop. It will include an essay by Lowery Stokes Sims and a current chronology and bibliography by Tina Dickey, who is compiling the catalogue raisonné of Hofmann's work.
This publication is made possible by the Antoinette Kraushaar Fund.
A variety of educational programs and resources will be available in conjunction with the exhibition, including a lecture on Hans Hofmann in the United States by Irving Sandler, noted historian of American art, on May 8 in the Uris Auditorium.
January 11, 1999